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Controversial Development

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Yesterday Federal Judge Frederic Block officially denied the 5Pointz artists a permanent injunction to stop demolition, after indicating as much earlier this week. The New York Daily News reports that the “lawyer for building owners Jerry Wolkoff and his son David argued that they stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits and other benefits if the project is not completed in the allotted period of time.” And while the judge expressed sympathy for the artists and respect for the work, he decided he couldn’t legally protect it under the VARA act, a federal law that allows for preservation of certain public artwork. He suggested the artists try to landmark the graffiti warehouse, but Landmarks already denied an application to do so. The Wolkoffs still plan to demo the building by the end of this year.

Federal Judge Refuses To Stop Plan To Demolish 5Pointz Graffiti Mecca [NY Daily News]
Judge Can’t Stop 5Pointz Demolition [Q’Stoner]

Photo by Patx11

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Despite a judge issuing a restraining order to hold off demolition at 5Pointz, it looks like the graffiti mecca will not be saved. The Daily News reports that on Friday, Federal Judge Frederic Block stated he couldn’t grant an injunction to prevent the demolition of the building, despite respecting the artwork on it. As he told the court, “I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law. I can’t grant the injunction.” The judge said that the building owners, Jerry and David Wolkoff, have a legal right to develop the property despite the artwork on it. The 5Pointz artists filed the lawsuit on the grounds of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, a law that protects recognized artwork that is incorporated into a building.

The judge recommended that the artists apply the building for landmark status, but Landmarks already rejected an application this August. The lawyer for the 5Pointz plaintiffs, Jeannine Chanes, is looking into filing a new application with Landmarks. 5Pointz artist Jonathan (Meres) Cohen told the News that “‘Giving up’ are not words in my vocabulary.” The Wolkoffs, on the other hand, want to demolish the building by next month.

5Pointz Graffiti Mecca in Long Island City Is Likely Doomed After Judge Says He Won’t Stop Demolition [NY Daily News]
Temporary Restraining Order at 5Pointz Is Extended 14 Days [Q’Stoner]
More Details on the 5Pointz Lawsuit [Q’Stoner]
5Pointz Artists React to City Council Approval With Lawsuit [Q’Stoner]

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The NY Daily News reports that the Queens Chamber of Commerce plans to operate an 18,000-square-foot incubator space within the Willets Point mega mall development. Apparently the incubator is part of the concessions between the developers, Related Co. and Sterling Equities, and the city. The developers will give the Chamber of Commerce $165,000 to start the place up. Once built, the incubator will be split between two different sections of the development. It will offer businesses a 30 to 40 percent discount on rent, as well as free trainings and other services. There’s also the possibility the incubator will include smaller, ground-floor storefronts for merchants that cater to the area’s diverse ethnic population. This news comes after the City Council approved the developer’s plan to overhaul the Iron Triangle earlier this month.

Business Incubator Slated for Willets Point [NY Daily News]
It’s Official: Three Mega Developments Will Move Ahead in Queens [Q’Stoner]

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Here’s another small victory for 5Pointz artists: the judge added another 14 days to the existing restraining order against building owners G&M Realty. This comes after the judge granted a 10 day restraining order due to the artists filing a federal court lawsuit against G&M. So for now the building is protected from demolition until November 12th. According to LIC Post, “The judge, Frederic Block, also called for a hearing as a means to determine whether he should issue a preliminary injunction. A preliminary injunction, if granted, would stop Wolkoff from demolishing the building until the lawsuit was resolved, which could take well over a year.”

The artists filed the lawsuit under the Visual Artists Rights Act, which gives certain visual artists the right to claim ownership of a work on a building. Wolkoff’s attorneys, on the other hand, are arguing that the grafitti artists always knew the building was going to be demolished, leaving little reason to believe the art would remain permanently up.

5Pointz Artists Win Small Battle in Their War to Save Graffiti Mecca [LIC Post]
More Details on the 5Pointz Lawsuit [Q’Stoner]

Photo by 4rilla

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Last week, on the heels of City Council approval for condo towers at 5Pointz, the founders of the 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center filed a lawsuit against the building owners, but the details of the lawsuit were scarce. The Observer sheds more light on the lawsuit in question: “The artists filed a suit in Federal Court against the owner of the warehouse, G&M Realty, citing a violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), a rarely-invoked bulwark against the faulty attribution and unauthorized alteration of some types of visual art.” According to the U.S. Copyright Office, VARA gives certain visual artists “the right to claim or disclaim authorship in a work; limited rights to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification of a work; and the right, under some circumstances, to prevent destruction of a work that is incorporated into a building.” The work can only be protected under VARA if it has “recognized stature.” The Observer spoke with a law school professor who noted that if VARA does apply it leaves the building owners without any legal means to demolish the warehouse. While it’s unlikely the act will protect the graffiti mecca in the long run, the Aerosol Art Center crew also hopes to use this as a temporary restraining order, buying them time to raise funds to put an offer on the property. Their hope is to turn the warehouse into a permanent gallery.

5Pointz Artists Invoke Rare Law in Bid to Keep Doomed Lair [Observer]

Photo by Harlan Harris

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One day after City Council approved plans to demolish the 5Pointz warehouse and build two condo towers, the founders of the 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center filed a lawsuit against the building owners to prevent the demolition from happening. New York Daily News reports that the suit is seeking a temporary restraining order, but does not go into any more specifics of the lawsuit at hand. What’s clear is that the building owners, Jerry and David Wolkoff, are set on bringing this building down: “I’m sure they just want to keep the building there — which is not going to happen,” David Wolkoff told the News. “After close to two decades of allowing them to do their work freely, it’s a shame … that they won’t allow us to do our work freely.”

Founders of 5Pointz File Lawsuit to Block Demolition of Grafitti Mecca [NY Times]
BREAKING: 5Pointz Condo Plan a Go, More Development Details Emerge [Q’Stoner]

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As expected, the City Council approved the 5Pointz condo plan, Willets Point mega mall plan and the Hallets Point housing plan at yesterday’s meeting. Here’s a recap on all three votes:

As we reported yesterday, the City Council came to an agreement with 5Pointz owners/developers Jerry and David Wolkoff to build two condo towers at the site, each 47 and 41 stories tall. The developers agreed to build and staff the buildings with all union workers, increase the number of affordable units from 75 to 210, build a public park that is over 32,000 square feet, and include over 50,000 square feet of retail space and a 250 space public parking garage. Wolkoff also agreed to increase the amount of artists studio and gallery space to 12,000 square feet and give Johnathan Cohen, a current curator at 5Pointz, the opportunity to curate nearly 10,000 square feet of art panels and walls in the new development. According to Queens Courier, no 5Pointz artists have been contacted or offered to work within the new art studios or be featured on the art panels. The artist were also under the impression that a second public hearing would take place yesterday; instead the City Council took the vote. The artists have until December 1st to leave the property. The Wolkoffs plan to demolish the building near the end of the year.

The City Council also approved a mega mall for Willets Point, a proposal which garnered criticism at every turn. The NY Daily News reports that developers Sterling Equities and the Related Companies offered the following concessions: 300 more affordable housing units than originally proposed, a $15,500,000 investment in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and $15,000,000 in relocation assistance for the small businesses that will be displaced out of the Iron Triangle. The developers also plan to build out a $2,600,000 rooftop farm on top of the mall. The city agreed to a last-minute request to provide funds for traffic ramps leading into the development — local officials asked for $70,000,000, the city promised $66,000,000.

Finally, the $1 billion redevelopment of Hallets Points is a go. The development will bring 2,100 luxury and nearly 500 below-market rate apartments to the area, according to the Daily News. The developer, Lincoln Equities, expects to break ground here in late 2014 or early 2015.

BREAKING: 5Pointz Condo Plan a Go, More Development Details Emerge [Q’Stoner]
City Council Takes Vote on 5Pointz, Willets Point and Hallets Point Today [Q’Stoner]

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Back in August, the City Planning Commission green-lighted a condo development for 5Pointz, a mega mall for Willets Point, and 2,600 housing units for Hallets Point. All these plans move to the City Council and will receive a vote today. Crain’s reports that the City Council will likely approve plans for Hallets Point, a ten tower, $1 billion mixed-use proposal for a sleepy section of the Astoria waterfront. City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. still hasn’t given the proposal his blessing; he is working with the City Council subcommittee to include increased bus and ferry service. If the Council approves the plans, the developer hopes to break ground next year and complete the first building in mid-2016. UPDATE: Crain’s reports that the city made a last-minute agreement with Vallone, promising that the city will study the feasibility of adding ferry service to the site.

As the story goes with Willets Point, there is lots of controversy surrounding the vote. Local officials asked the city to include an extra $70,000,000 to build highway ramps leading into the development to help spur residential construction. Still, the plan’s detractors say the last-minute request misses the point that the proposal does not guarantee affordable housing, and only promises a mega mall on public parkland.

Over at 5Pointz, more controversy ensues. According to the 5Pointz Twitter, many thought that City Council would hold a public hearing this morning — instead, the Council is taking a vote on the proposal for two condo towers. The Times published an overview of the 5Pointz plans just yesterday. Most recently 5Pointz owner David Wolkoff promised to include 209 affordable apartment units in the development, up from 75 units. But as a graffiti artist and 5Pointz curator told the Times, the plan will “just destroy more of what made New York what it is. Now it is just boring, full of bland boring towers of boxes of glass.”

It’s likely that all three plans, despite the amount of controversy, will ultimately receive approval from the City Council. Stay tuned for news of the votes…

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Two City Council subcommittees will make a preliminary verdict on the $3 billion Willets Point project tomorrow, but local officials continue to push for assurances that the city will invest adequately in infrastructure around the project. More specifically, as Crain’s reports, “they have asked for the city to guarantee it will pay $70 million for traffic ramps leading into the development, which will ultimately include hotel and residential space, from the Van Wyck Expressway.” The city hasn’t allocated any funds for the ramps, despite previously promising to include them in the project. For a proposal that’s shifted its focus from housing to retail development, the ramps will increase accessibility to the site for future residents, as well as accelerate housing development in the area.

Willets Point United issued an open letter to council members regarding the traffic ramp. The letter states, “Obtaining $70 million for highway ramps does not address the overriding problem with this project: the construction of a huge mall on parkland; AND, it alone does not and cannot guarantee that any housing will ever be constructed, because the project contract still contains escape clauses.” They urge City Council to deny the plan altogether, stating that the community does not want the proposed project at all and there needs to be a guarantee for affordable housing. An opinion piece in the New York Daily News echoes that sentiment, saying: “The proposal to build a massive, 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is a poster child for everything that is wrong with development in our city.” Meanwhile, Queens Crap asks, “Why the hell should taxpayers foot the bill for the Wilpons’ highway ramps?” After the subcommittee’s vote on the matter tomorrow, the full City Council will vote on the proposal as early as next week.

$70M Deal Needed for Council OK on Willets Point [Crain’s]
Willets Pount spells More Inequality for NYC [NY Daily News]
Willets West Mall on Parkland [Willets Point United]

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It wasn’t too long ago we wondered what was up at the controversial Astoria medical facility under construction at 23-25 31st Street. Queens Crap reports that Senator Tony Avella, along with Astoria residents, scheduled a rally today at 10:30 am against the developers. The developers threatened to sue residents with adjoining property to the building in order to gain access to their properties and complete construction. Residents aren’t so keen to hand over access, considering the building construction caused structural damage to nearby homes. The protest is taking place outside the developer’s office at 23-18 31st Street.

Avella to Protest Astoria Medical Building Today With Neighbors [Queens Crap]
Checking in at the Controversial Astoria Medical Building [Q’Stoner]